The power steering system

The power steering system is basically a hydraulic assist system that uses oil under pressure to assist in moving the front wheels back and forth as you drive.  When you turn the steering wheel, a spool valve directs the system pressure towards the direction you turn the wheel.  Fluid is constantly pumped from the power steering pump through the system when the engine is running.  After the fluid passes through the steering rack, it returns as a low pressure fluid back to the reservoir that maybe mounted on the pump.  This cycle repeats itself over and over through the life of the system.

 

Over time and exposure to high and low pressures, heat and cold, the “soft parts” of the power steering system will start to harden and sometimes shrink.  Hoses and seals will eventually not work as they were designed, allowing pressure to drop or cause a system leak.  Losing the power steering fluid and running the system dry will result in expensive repairs from over heating and lack of lubricant.

 

Determining that your power steering system has a leak can be as simple as checking the fluid level and noting that it has dropped in the reservoir.  Some reservoirs have dipsticks, others have a window where you can inspect the level.  There are usually two marks to check against, “Hot and Cold”.  The fluid expands as it heats up, so if the vehicle is hot the level should be closer to the hot level.  Cold vehicle, it should be near the lower level.

 

If the fluid level is low, an easy visual inspection of the system should help you locate the leaky spot or spots.  (Note: The following is best done on a cool vehicle.  If you should be going under the vehicle, use safe methods to raise and secure the vehicle.) Use a flashlight and trace the system from the reservoir down the hoses to the steering rack.  Visually inspect the steering rack top and bottom, side to side.  Note the black bellows on each end of the steering rack, squeeze and feel for fluid in them.  If you find them full of fluid you are probably looking at replacing the steering rack. Finish tracing the system from the steering rack back to the reservoir.

 

Sometimes the leaks can be as simple as a clamp coming loose over time.  Just tightening or replacing the clamp will solve your problem.  Leaks at pressure fittings may benefit from a gentle amount of tightening too.